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Koch brothers group targets GOP state senators with attack ads


Three Republican state senators are the target of a well-financed campaign this month that portrays them as giving subsidies to billionaires, being unresponsive to parents of children in struggling schools, and being reckless with pensions.

But it’s not Democrats taking aim at Sen. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice and Sen. Greg Evers of Baker. Rather, it’s Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group founded by billionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch.

“I don’t pretend to understand these people,” Detert said. “They are supposed to be Republicans. They are attacking Republicans. If they’re not happy with Republicans, they should go out and start their own party.”

Slade O’Brien, the Florida Director of Americans for Prosperity, insists his group isn’t partisan. It is, however, conservative, he says. The group’s scorecard rated Dean, Detert and Evers with the lowest grades of any Republicans in the Legislature.

“They all voted against pension reform, parent trigger and for tax credits for billionaires,” O’Brien said. “They are just terrible on all of our issues.”

Starting this month, O’Brien said Americans for Prosperity is spending a “substantial amount” against the three senators on several direct mail pieces, social media, and ads to be aired on cable TV.

“The point is, we have an agenda, Five for Florida,” O’Brien said. “When you have a one party government like in Florida, which is what we have with Republicans in control, common sense reforms ought to be passed. The House takes it up and they die in the Senate. And that’s awfully frustrating for us.”

The campaign is curiously timed. It’s a year before next year’s elections, and so far, neither Detert or Evers have an opponent. Dean, who won last year, is termed out in 2016. So why bother and why now?

“We’re not going to make much progress with these three,” O’Brien said. “But we’re putting the rest of the Legislature on notice. We’re letting them know that there is a group in Florida that is holding them accountable.”

A 30-second TV ad that’s the same for all three begins with a woman’s voice-over.

“When conservatives in Tallahassee took on special interests, Sen. (Dean or Detert or Evers) turned (their) back on them.”

The ad then summarizes key legislation from last session.

The ad says all three “voted to give taxpayer funded hand outs to billionaires." That’s a reference to SB 306. It passed the Senate by a vote of 35-4 -- so Dean, Detert and Evers weren’t the only Republicans to support it. (It died later in the House). In fact, the only ones to vote against it were Senate President Don Gaetz, John Legg, Anitere Flores and Rene Garcia. What did it do? It allowed the Miami Dolphins and other sports franchises to compete for state money.

Then the ad says they “opposed helping kids in failing schools.” That’s a reference to SB 862, which was substituted for HB 867. Also called the “Parent Empowerment Act” or “Parent Trigger”, it would have let parents demand major changes at failing schools, including having the school transformed into a charter school. On April 30, the legislation died in the Senate with a deadlocked vote of 20-20. Six Republicans, Dean, Detert, Evers, Garcia, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and Jack Latvala, voted against it.

Next, the ad states that they “rejected common sense pension reform.” That’s based on SB534/hb 599, which required the state’s 492 publicly funded defined benefit pension plans to report a new set of benchmarks to the state. This new reporting would measure plans in a way that would make the majority of them look worse then they currently do. Also, the ad is referencing HB 7011, which would have prevented new state employees and teachers to register for the Florida’s pension system, directing them instead to 401-k-style retirement accounts. Again, Dean, Detert and Evers voted against this bill, which died in the Senate with the help of other Republican votes from Diaz de la Portilla, Flores, Denise Grimsley, Latvala and Legg.

“As long as they mention my name and spell it right, that’s a good thing,” Evers joked when asked about the ad.

But like Detert, Evers said he was confused as to why he was being targeted. Evers is widely supported by tea party groups across the state.

“When the tea party finds out they are jumping on me, they won’t like that,” Evers said.

He doesn’t apologize for his votes on any of the bills referenced in the ad.

“My folks know me, and they know why I voted the way I do,” Evers said. “What this group is really upset about is that I stood up for my district, where 70 percent of the folks I got work in the prison system or for the state. My folks spoke to me about (pensions) and all I did was honor their wish. If I’m not going to vote the way my folks want me to vote, why am I in Tallahassee?”

Like Evers, Detert said she voted for SB 306 because it was about local control. For the money to get approved, voters in those districts would still have to approve it.

“It’s not a Democrat or Republican thing,” Detert said. “It allows local people who lived there to decide. I guess Americans for Prosperity wants us in Tallahassee to make these decisions rather than letting the local people decide.”

Like Evers, Detert had no regrets with rejecting “parent trigger”.

“These public schools are bonded by the taxpayers, and they want us to hand them over to corporations to control?” Detert said. “I’m very proud of that vote. I call that one the ‘Protecting the Taxpayer vote.’”

O’Brien wouldn’t say how much money the group plans on spending. He did say that the $100,000 that Detert said was being spent against her was not correct. He wouldn’t say if it was more or less than that figure.

“If (Governor) Scott Walker can do the things he did in Wisconsin, we can certainly do those things here in Florida,” O’Brien said. “It’s appalling to us that it hasn’t been done because this common sense legislation dies a death at the hands of half a dozen so-called conservatives in the Senate who should be supportive.”

He said for now, the campaign will focus on Dean, Detert and Evers, but said other senators might be included in future campaigns.

“At the end of the month, we’ll see where we are,” O’Brien said.

Here’s the group’s statement announcing the campaign:

AFP-FL Calls Out 3 GOP Senators for Poor Votes in New Ad Campaign

Ads inform conservatives that their elected officials are not working for them.

TALLAHASSEE – Today, the Florida Chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-FL) launched a new effort in Florida Senate districts 2, 5 and 28 aimed at educating voters in those districts of their elected official’s poor votes on key common-sense reforms and economic freedom-related issues during the 2013 session. The multifaceted campaign will employ direct mail and television and social media ads against Sens. Charlie Dean, Greg Evers, and Nancy Detert, and it will run through the end of November.

“These three senators voted to give taxpayer-funded handouts to billionaires, opposed giving parents the power to turn around failing schools, and voted to kill common-sense reform of the antiquated Florida pension plan—reforms that would have protected and honored the contracts of everyone currently in the system while protecting Florida’s taxpayers moving forward. These are issues that conservatives in their districts care about and they need to know that it was their own senator that let them down,” said AFP-FL State Director Slade O’Brien. “We intend to make it very clear that when AFP issues a 'key vote' on a specific issue, we mean business. We mean it when we say we’ll educate their constituents back home on the outcome of those votes.”

AFP-FL developed and has been advocating a common-sense reform agenda called Five for Florida. The plan would make taxes fairer; help end cronyism and the overwhelming influence of special interests; bring more accountability and transparency to government; require fiscal responsibility; expand competition and choice in education; eliminate unnecessary government burdens on businesses; and make Florida the most attractive state in the nation for both businesses and families.  

O’Brien continued, “Polling has shown that the policies outlined in our Five for Florida plan are supported by a majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike.  With the public growing ever more disgusted with the mess that is Washington, DC, there’s no better time for the Florida Legislature to restore the public’s faith in government by passing these common sense reforms.”